A Novella About the Lottery


The lottery is a form of gambling in which people pay a small amount of money for the chance to win large prizes. In modern lotteries, prize amounts are based on the total value of tickets sold (excluding expenses and profits for the promoter). In general, there is only one prize for which everyone is eligible to participate, although smaller prizes may be awarded to randomly selected ticket holders. Many states regulate the lotteries that they oversee. However, some do not. Critics of the lottery argue that it promotes addictive gambling behavior and is a major source of illegal gambling. It is also a regressive tax that drains low-income people’s incomes and prevents them from saving for other uses such as retirement or paying for school. Others say that state governments have an inherent conflict of interest when they raise funds in the form of a lottery.

In the story, a small-town American village is holding its annual lottery. The villagers are excited yet nervous. They recite an old proverb: “Lottery in June, corn will be heavy.” The shabby black box that holds the lot is so worn and ragged it has a worn-out look. The villagers are reluctant to replace it and base their attachment to it on the belief that it is made from pieces of an older, even more shabby black box. They firmly believe that the shabby old black box represents both tradition and the illogic of their loyalty to the lottery.

Characterization methods in the story include observant and plain narration, a limited number of characters and settings, and a plot with a clear, linear progression. Mrs. Delacroix is an observant character whose actions show her determination and quick temper. Her action of picking a rock that is so big she has to pick it out in frustration reveals her determination to win the lottery.

Lotteries have long been a popular way to raise money for public purposes, from the building of the British Museum to the repairs of bridges and to help fund early American colonies. Lotteries were sometimes abused in the past, and their abuses strengthened arguments against them and weakened those in favor of them. But by and large, they have won broad popular support and a considerable degree of governmental approval. The objective fiscal circumstances of the state government appear to have little bearing on the extent to which voters support or oppose the idea of a lottery.

The principal argument in favor of the lottery is that it is a painless method of raising taxes and that voters are voluntarily spending their own money for the public good. This argument has proven to be a powerful one, especially in times of economic stress when states are seeking to increase spending but do not want to impose tax increases. Lotteries are also effective at winning broad support when a particular public service is identified, such as education, as in this case.